Residents of the Farwell Mill apartments in Lisbon say the former mill-turned apartment complex needs fixing up. Darcie Moore / The Times Record

LISBON — Tenants of the aging Farwell Mill Apartments on Route 196 say their building needs some work. Now, thanks to a housing grant, help may be on the way.

The former woolen mill, built in 1857, has served as apartments since the 1990s, according to Andrew Altmaier, the CEO of Realty Resource Management, which manages the property. The company is planning a $10 million project to convert commercial space on the first floor into an additional 14 affordable housing units.

Lisbon has partnered with Realty Resources Management on the project and recently won a $1 million housing assistance grant through the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development to help fund it. The Lisbon Town Council will have to vote to accept the funds, though Richardson said he doesn’t know when that will be. The town has up to six months to iron out the scope and details of the project.

“Fourteen units is really exciting and it’s a great opportunity, and we need those units,” said Brett Richardson, the town’s economic and community development director. “There’s a huge need for affordable housing throughout southern Maine. Housing insecurity is a big challenge.”

According to Maine Housing, the median two-bedroom rent in Lisbon is $1,279, and 56.7% of the 534 renter households in Lisbon can’t afford an average two-bedroom apartment. The National Low Income Housing Coalition puts affordable monthly rents in the Lewiston-Auburn area at $637 based on an hourly mean renter wage of $12.26.

According to Altmaier, there is currently a mix of market-rate and affordable housing in the Farwell Mill, which houses about 82 apartments. The affordable housing rents are about $550 and $650 and $900 for single-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, respectively.

Altmaier said he doesn’t know yet how much the rents will be for the new units, but he expects they will be slightly more expensive than the existing affordable housing rentals.

The new apartments will fall under the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, which provides a federal tax credit to developers of affordable rental housing. It will serve people making between 50% and 60% of the area median income, Altmaier said. According to Maine Housing data, these rents currently are $787, $945 and $1,090 for one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, respectively, for people making 60% of the area median income in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

The Lewiston Housing Authority serves Lisbon, which has no affordable housing program of its own. The agency currently has 703 people on the waiting list for Section 8 housing vouchers, and 19 of them live in Lisbon, according to Travis Heynen, the deputy executive director for Lewiston Housing. The wait varies but can span six months to a year.

Rebecca Greene, a tenant at Farwell Mill, said she and her husband were briefly homeless before moving into their two-bedroom apartment in 2016. Their $719 monthly rent is income-based.

Overall it has been a positive experience living there, Greene said, but there have been issues not addressed.

There are water-damaged ceiling tiles in Greene’s apartment that haven’t been replaced since a pipe burst in 2017, flooding their kitchen. She worried about black mold.

“We ended up lifting up the ceiling tiles ourselves and didn’t see anything that was cause for concerns,” she said.

Greene said the large windows let in a lot of light but are not energy efficient.

“They get very drafty in the winter, to the point where our daughter sleeps in our bed with us because our other bedroom is uninhabitable,” Greene said.

Management does respond to emergencies quickly, she said, like the time her infant daughter flushed a bottle down the toilet.

“It’s an old building,” said Debra Leone, a seven-year tenant with a housing voucher. She’s looking for a new home.

Leone said the windows are difficult to open and her second-story apartment has no fire escape.

Lisbon Codes Enforcement Officer Dennis Douglass said he has never been contacted about issues concerning emergency exits and hasn’t found any major issues with the building.

Altmaier said the planned improvements will help. The project will include a new roof, window repair, brickwork and rehabilitation to the inside. As part of that work, “we’re going to be looking at doing things to standard and making sure everything is up to code,” he said.

Newer buildings are easier than old buildings to manage day-to-day, according to Altmaier.

“Just having new amenities and newer aspects of the property are going to help with that,” he said.

The company is also seeking historic preservation tax credits that will protect the historic integrity of the building.

Altmaier said planning is in the very early stages so he didn’t have a timeline yet for construction.

“We’re hoping to have more information in the next month or so,” he said.


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